5.3 Politics of stakeholder identification
Conflict can occur when two or more social actors (individuals, groups, organisations, etc.) interact with one another while striving to attain their goals, and can be traced to one or more of the following causes:
- competition for a resource that is scarce between social actors pursuing the same / similar goals or different goals
- differing expectations – and behavioural preferences – of joint action
- different attitudes, values, beliefs, and skills.
However, conflict should not be viewed as something that is necessarily bad for an organisation – irrespective of whether such conflict takes place within the organisation or between two separate organisations. Increasingly, organisational conflict has come to be seen as both legitimate and inevitable; it may even be a positive indicator of effective organisational management. Furthermore, within certain limits, conflict is essential to productivity: conflict may result in creative solutions to problems, while little or no conflict in organisations may lead to stagnation, poor decisions and ineffectiveness.
Given what you have learned about the biased nature of stakeholder perspectives, spend the next few minutes thinking about why understanding stakeholder analysis in terms of these components might be problematic, and about what goes unchallenged – or is not subjected to ‘contestation’ – in plotting stakeholders on a power/interest grid. (Hint: try to think about what is being obscured, albeit unintentionally, in both situations.) Write down your answer.
As described at the start of Section 4, the three main components of stakeholder analysis are: identify stakeholders; understand key stakeholders; and prioritise stakeholders. This approach might seem straightforward enough but all three of these activities can be done in very different ways, and it is easy to miss key stakeholders due to unconscious bias. For example, there are a variety of stories about IT systems involving voice recognition that were designed by men who tested the system on themselves and managed to forget that women and children typically have higher voices. In some cases this made the first version of the system only suitable for men. Other stakeholders were ignored. No malice or intentional bias was intended – but groups were ignored.
The same can be said for the power/interest grid – in itself it is a useful tool, but the perspectives of those populating the grid must not be ignored. It is not an objective instrument by itself.
According to Clegg (1989, p. 13), ‘the drawing of political boundaries [that is, the identification of political groupings] in the formal sense is itself always an act of politics, representing a mobilisation of bias.’ In short, there is no ‘view from nowhere’, no neutral or objective vantage point from which a value-free stakeholder analysis can be performed. Put another way, any identification of stakeholders in an IT system as the stakeholders in that system will be politically motivated and hence, biased. Given the intrinsic bias (or subjectivity) of stakeholder identification, the issue becomes one of determining whether such bias can be legitimised and if so, how this is achieved.